It’s almost four months to the day since I last wrote a general summary of the trends that will define Africa’s politics and economics in 2017. It’s about time for an update, I think, because, just as in the rest of the world, things tend to move fast over here too. So, buckle down, there’s a lot of ground to cover.
Let’s start on the West Coast, in the smallest country on the African mainland. Three months after the ousting of The Gambia’s longtime dictator, Yahya Jammeh, and his exile to Equatorial Guinea, the tiny country seems to be on the mend. Dozens of political prisoners have been freed and there’s hope that even more will follow them out of the gaols.
There are concerted efforts to mend strained international ties. According to the IMF, the economy is set to take off once again after years of mismanagement and corruption; in fact, they just got 4G LTE (watch out Australia). Nevertheless, though the long nightmare seems to be over for this country’s citizens, the work ahead could not be more crucial.
A little to the south-east of the Gambia, Ghana – in my opinion the most stable African country right now – is making good use of its democratic credentials and young, vibrant population to keep moving forward economically. News coming out of the country is so normal, it could be coming out of any European country. However, the country faces a huge problem in rampant corruption.
To the east of Ghana, Africa’s most populous and richest country, Nigeria, is slowly lumbering back onto its economic feet. Estimates are that it will pull out of its debilitating recession this quarter. Something of note is that Nigeria’s recession was part of a continent-wide trend for last year, when the continent’s cumulative GDP growth rate slowed down to 3.0 percent, the slowest in more than 10 years. Nigeria plans to accelerate its recovery through a massive program of agricultural investment.
Shortly after I started editing this article, the good news came in that 83 of the Chibok girls have been released by Boko Haram in exchange for a number of militants previously held by the Nigerian government. The government is caring for 82 of the girls in the capital Abuja while their identities are verified before they are reunited with their families. The number is 82 because the 83rd refused to be freed, saying she didn’t want to leave her militant husband.
Across a few more borders east, Gabon is generally peaceful after the violence that followed last year's presidential elections. However, Jean Ping, the opposition leader who claims his victory was stolen, refuses to participate in peace talks with the government. Nevertheless, members of several opposition parties are taking part in the talks which are now expected to end on May 25 after the initially scheduled conclusion on May 10 didn’t come to pass.
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the death in February of veteran opposition leader Étienne Tshisekedi temporarily threw the opposition off balance. He was crucial in plans for a post-Kabila DRC after President Joseph Kabila acquiesced to a deal with the opposition alliance Rassemblement, paving the way for presidential elections to take place in 2017 after plans to postpone them to 2018 triggered massive protests and loss of life last year.
Tshisekedi’s death left a gaping hole in the leadership of the opposition, a hole many think can only be filled by one man, the flamboyant businessman and former governor of mineral-rich Katanga province, Moise Katumbi. The problem is, Moise Katumbi is in exile following an acrimonious split with Joseph Kabila that had him show-tried for corruption and sentenced in absentia to three years in jail. There are now increasing calls, backed by the powerful Catholic Bishops Conference that brokered the peace agreement, for Moise Katumbi to be allowed back into the country.
Next door in South Sudan, a civil war rages on, pitting forces loyal to President Salva Kiir against those loyal to the exiled former Vice President Riek Machar. Several other rebel militias have joined in the struggle to overthrow Salva Kiir, but the President has the command of the national army. Since the conflict began with the ouster of Machar in 2013, over 50,000 lives have been lost and 2 million people have been displaced.
The country’s crude oil production has also declined by a third to less than 130,000 barrels a day. Given that oil is the lifeline of the country’s economy, and that famine is threatening the lives of many more people in the north of the country, the end of the war could not be more urgent.
One country south of South Sudan, Rwanda, is priming itself for a largely ceremonial presidential election on August 28. Ceremonial, because there is no doubt it will be a rubber stamp for the continuation of Paul Kagame’s presidency, a third term for the leader who said Rwanda does not (and I quote) “need an eternal leader,” but might go on to rule till 2032.
Well, maybe he was right. Maybe he won’t rule forever. 2032 is just around the corner. One can only hope he treats his opponents in the upcoming elections well, because he doesn’t have a particularly good record of that. But, to give credit where its due, again, Rwanda is stable and clean, and its economy is chugging along at a good clip.
Across Rwanda’s southern border, Burundi’s crisis, now nearing the end of its second year since the controversial election of President Pierre Nkurunziza to a disputed third term in July 2015, also doesn’t show any signs of abating. There are still countless reports coming out of the tiny country of arbitrary arrests, forced disappearances and executions of dissidents. Bodies keep turning up in swamps and in neighbourhood drainage ditches.
As for the definition of dissidents, anyone goes, from senior politicians to junior high school students. The group running the Twitter account @iBurundi has done a great job documenting the horrors since the crisis started, despite a stifling state-orchestrated media blackout in the country. The only thing about this crisis more appalling than the impunity with which Nkurunziza is crushing the opposition is the silent impunity with which the international community is watching him do so.
East of Burundi, in Kenya, citizens can now count the days before the August 8 national elections. The main contestants for the presidency are the incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta and veteran Opposition leader Raila Odinga; although the electoral commission has cleared up to nine independent candidates for the seat. A lot of chaos were witnessed, and a few lives were lost, during the primaries for the major political parties last month.
At the moment, all is calm as the country awaits the commencement of the official campaign period on May 28. There are fears that disputes may arise after the elections which may result in tribal violence – fears that have been given some credibility by the chaotic party primaries. But Kenyans right now have a more pressing problem: the cost of basic goods has inexplicably taken a sharp turn upwards, the economy has slowed to a crawl, and there are increasing concerns about the country’s burgeoning foreign debt.
Across Kenya’s eastern border, Somalia is still a warzone, as illustrated by the well-covered recent killing of a US Navy SEAL in the country by Al-Shabaab militants. There are also fears that piracy may be on the rise off the country’s shores once again. However, the situation isn’t nearly as bad as it may seem. The Somali federal government is getting more help in taming the wild country. A good sign is the recent resumption of direct Nairobi – Mogadishu flights after nearly 12 years.
There’s more that could be written, but any attempt to summarise Africa is bound to end in futility, so this does not claim to be a concise summary. Nevertheless, because a conclusion is required, I can sign off by saying that Africa still displays that characteristic dynamism of a young continent. Setbacks and victories are woven into a tale of constant progress, even if the current situation in many countries may not seem encouraging.
Mathew Otieno writes from Nairobi, Kenya.